Let's Be Frank and Taco 'Bout It

Jon O'Neal's quest for the Magic City's best

Jon O’Neal isn’t a professional when it comes to cuisine — he’s just someone who appreciates great food. The north Alabama native has lived in the Magic City for about 12 years, and throughout that time, he’s developed an unusual calling: helping locals discover the best tacos and hot dogs in town, whether shop, truck or pop-up. 

Though he is now an authority on both, it was the hot dog hunt that actually came first. O’Neal’s interest was piqued when he learned about Gus Koutroulakis of Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs, who died six months after O’Neal moved to the Magic City. Though he’d missed his chance to try Gus’ famous “Birmingham-style” dog, O’Neal was intrigued by the story and history — and decided he would find other places where he could get a great frankfurter. “I set out to visit every hot dog spot in the metro,” he says. 

Then, in 2019, during a trip to Los Angeles, O’Neal found himself growing fonder of tacos — and realizing even more styles existed than he’d known. Growing up in north Alabama — and visiting Mexico a few times in youth — he’d always appreciated Latin food. “Where I grew up, there’s a large population of not just Mexicans but other Central Americans,” he says. “One of my friends’ moms cooked for us; they were from Guadalajara.”

O’Neal came home from the Golden State newly inspired and immediately began searching for the kinds of tacos he’d encountered out West. His list grew, and, with that, @birminghamtacos was born. But the hashtag, he says, is far older. “If you use the tag #bhamtacos, you can go back to how long I did this before I started an account — there might be tacos from a decade ago!”

As for the hot dogs, that account — @bhamhotdogs and hashtag #bhamhotdogs — got started when his close friend, Jason Tech, moved to Birmingham, and O’Neal recognized he’d be the ideal person to collaborate with. 

“On a whim, I decided to create the account and asked Jason to help with it,” he explains. “The goal is to document everywhere that still serves a Birmingham dog — there are some variations, but typically, mustard, onion, kraut, beef and the sauce. But we are definitely going to cover other hot dog options in town as well.”

O’Neal points out that running these accounts is not his job; he doesn’t make money off them. Rather, they are labors of love to honor good food and community. “I haven’t made a dime off this,” he says. “In my eyes, it’s just posting a truck and letting people know they are there — putting it on the map and sending people their way. It’s fun, and I enjoy it.”

He adds that in his own household, a love of food is being passed to the next generation. “I’m married with a 9-year-old son, and I’ve taken them to various trucks,” he says, “and we live near Taco Morro Loco, which we all like. We also make tacos at home — the Americanized ones with ground beef and cheese, and we like to make street taco styles as well.” 

1.The Taqueria Tafoya
The gorditas de guisado de puerco are one of my favorite dishes in town, bar none. They had a fire a couple of years ago which closed their restaurant, and they were able to finally relocate this year. Multi-generational family restaurant, I love this place.

2. Taco Morro Loco
Great location, and everything on the menu is good. I've really been liking their "Crunchwrap" lately. There is also a Morro Loco truck nearby. Enchiladas with green sauce is the sleeper gem on the menu, after the crunchwrap.

3. Gordos 
In addition to the restaurant, there is a market attached. Fresh tortillas, one of the few places in town that cooks their al pastor on a trompo (vertical spit). The carnitas is the real deal, too. Condiment bar.

4. Los Valedores 
Some of my favorite sauces in town. One of the few places locally where I've seen tlacoyos, which are a pre-hispanic dish made with masa and various fillings. 

5. Dos Hermanos LLC 
"The truck" in Birmingham. Pretty much any time someone mentions a taco truck in town, it's Dos Hermanos. 

6. La Juanita
Another hidden gem. Fresh tortillas, and every taco on the menu is good. They also have vegetarian options and a condiment bar.

7. Taqueria Charros
The only place I know of that has tacos de canasta (basket tacos) on the menu. If you google that phrase, it will give you a better explanation than I would. I've always thought they had an impressive menu for a truck.

8. Cenaduria Morelia
They move around but Ghost Train is a regular spot for them. I think I would have to give them "best tortillas." They are making them right in front of you. Great sauces.

9. Taco Mariachi
Their al pastor has been my favorite in town lately. 

10. Tacos Don Tacho #2
Good for kids; they also have a dessert and snack bar. They are starting to develop a real following. Big menu, and a condiment bar (which is a huge plus to me).

11. Tacos Gama
Absolute hidden gem. Super-friendly guy. Sets up at this laundromat on the weekends. Fresh tortillas. 

12. Taqueria Los Primos
Possibly the most extensive menu for tacos in the city. Many, many options.

13. Tienda Carniceria y Taqueria Fiesta
Another restaurant with a market attached. My favorite carnitas in town so far. Fresh tortillas.

14. Lonchera Los Vargas
One of the only spots in town that does a salsa de cacahuate (peanuts). They also have 3 other sauces.

15. Tacos El Guero
The oldest taco truck down 280, to my knowledge.

16. Los Primos Taqueria Taco Truck
The first taco truck I ever ate at in Birmingham. In fact, my very first post on Instagram ever was a picture of tacos from here. The al pastor is my favorite here. 

17. Taqueria Juarez
Another spot where the food itself is delicious, but the sauces are next-level. Everyone tells me to get a burrito from here, but I haven't done it yet.

18. Tacos Mami Nor
The only truck in town that specializes in guisados (another thing that google will give you a better description of than I will). Essentially, it's like home cooking. Fresh tortillas, dishes you won't find elsewhere in town. And the pink truck is iconic. 

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